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All of Martin’s coverage of Kendal Calling 2014 is this way.
After Suede at Kendal Calling 2014, it’s time for Mr Scruff to funk the night away. The very definition of ubiquitous, the unassuming, ginger-bearded figure of Scruff is in real danger of becoming one of those strange beasts – the Super-DJ. Presumably only his down-to-Earth Mancunian work ethic prevents him from descending into David Guetta-style hedonism, a tendency encapsulated by his enthusiasm for a nice cup of tea.
The genius of Scruff’s performance can be summed up in three words: take your time. When thought of on the scale of an individual song, his build-ups give gentle but persistent encouragement. Each 2-, 4-, and 8-bar loop carry subtle variations: very rarely is anything repeated verbatim. The same attention to detail can be heard on the wider scale of a whole set: there’s an underlying breakbeat backbone to pretty much everything that he does, overlaid with various magpie samples and synth melodies.
There are occasional acid house tropes, like on 2011’s ‘Wobble Control’, where he threatens to throw caution to the wind and take refuge in cliché, but never does the temptation manifest itself into anything as common as a four-to-the-floor beat: he remains focussed on the funk throughout. The only criticism to be levelled at Scruff is that he’s a bit of a tease – because he’s so good at buildups, he won’t let himself really come to a climax, which as you can imagine can be somewhat frustrating. Indeed, some of his set tonight is dull to the point of becoming muzak. Only the ever-present childlike cartoon visuals provide something for the brain to do whilst the feet move as instructed by the beat, without any intervention of the intellect. Having said that, Scruff is the consummate professional and can be relied upon to get a tent jigging around like mad things, so perhaps repetition is indeed the essence of dance music. Who knew?
Etches are the lovechild of an electronica band and a conventional guitar-led indie outfit. Their songs are complex, structurally unconventional and melodically oblique. Being based in Liverpool, there’s naturally a hint of psych buried deep within their sound, all of which combines to birth a song like ‘The Charm Offensive’, which soars through the ether like a deranged seagull. The highlight of their set is a slowcore version of Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, which is quietly astonishing.
If Etches have a hint of psych, The Lucid Dream have it running through their veins and printed through their marrow like a stick of paisley Blackpool rock. 2011’s ‘Heartbreak Girl’ is a noisy, scally cousin to Pink Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play’, with speed-ups and slow-downs galore and an utterly incomprehensible arrangement. Fast-forward to 2013’s ‘Songs of Lies and Deceit’, on which the folk-tinged lunacy gives way to full-on electric guitar stomp, absolutely swimming in reverb, echo and delay. Mark Emmerson swaggers around the stage like Liam Gallagher does in his own lucid dreams, when he imagines he’s actually cool and popular again. A somewhat bizarre melodica interlude notwithstanding (is there any less rock ‘n’ roll instrument than the melodica?) The Lucid Dream are perhaps the find of the weekend. A set of world-class psychedelia from a bunch of Cumbrian scallys – who’d a thunk it?
Perhaps I’m biased due to the Northeast roots of Gallery Circus, but by crikey they make a brilliant, cerebrally-challenging racket. To pigeonhole them as yet another novelty bassless duo would be in itself baseless; perhaps due to their being twins, Daniel and Graeme Ross have a psychic awareness of what the other is about to play, which means they are one of the most telepathically sharp bands one could hope to see. Their own songs are superb – from the patchwork virtuoso hard rock of ‘Supercell’, to the illegally funky white soul of ‘Club House Killer’, they know how to write a tune – and they know how to cover one too. Climaxing with a rendition of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ could be a recipe for disaster, given the regard in which the original classic is held – needless to say their cover is superb, respectful and note-perfect. They are well deserving of their BBC Introducing at Glastonbury shout this year – on this evidence, the first of many.
Razorlight were present and correct. An uncomfortable moment at the beginning of the set notwithstanding (Johnny Borrell’s guitar developed a fault in the first song and he spent the rest of it flouncing grumpily, directing evil stares at soundman and guitar tech alike), they sounded decent, looked every inch the sharp rock ‘n’ roll band, and nobody can deny the merits of their back catalogue. Quite what relevance they carry beyond being their own tribute band remains to be seen – Kendal does have a penchant for greatest hits sets – but Borrell remains a compelling frontman, and the crowd seemed to lap it up.
Most British nu-folk-rock is a load of old twaddle. See Amber Run in the first part of this review for further details. So how refreshing it is to come across a band who manage to combine a stringed instrument that isn’t a guitar into a coherence that doesn’t rely on discredited, worn-out tropes. The Mispers have a lovely driving sound peppered with elements of genuine English folk music. There’s a smart young lady playing a fiddle, the chap singing manages to pull off wearing nothing but a waistcoat, there’s electronica bubbling under the surface, and some decent electric guitar when circumstances demand it. 2014 single ‘Brother’ is a perfect case in point. A lithe violin figure frames a musing on family which builds to a firm climax without relying on the tired and tiresome quiet-loud-quiet structure (as parodied so brilliantly by Dion Beary in his ‘Every Mumford And Sons Song Basically’ video). The Mispers prove that folk-rock can be done properly, and, basically, prove how right I’ve been all along. Ha. Thanks, The Mispers.
And then Evil Blizzard arrived and the review must draw to a close at this point. No matter how many fireworks or dancing monkeys might appear later on in the festival, there’s no point in even describing them – in comparison with Evil Blizzard, they are nary a footnote in musical history, a pale imitation of what can truly be achieved with fancy dress, latex face masks and four bass players. If it was about the music, one could say something like, “‘Clones’ combines Rocket From The Crypt’s ‘On a Rope’ guitar riff, Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer’ key change and John Lydon’s Public Image Limited plaintive, detuned vocal howl to generate an ear-pounding four minutes of chaos.” But Evil Blizzard aren’t really about the music as such, in the same way that what you hear at a rave isn’t something you’d take away and sit down on your sofa and listen to with a nice cup of tea. It all only makes sense in context, with the perspective of appropriate surroundings, and more importantly, in the presence of other audience members, if only to remind oneself that what you’re experiencing isn’t some particularly cruel hallucination, a flashback from the previous night’s “adult disco”.
There’s no point in trying to describe what the band look like – words cannot adequately convey the psychological discomfort that their appearance engenders. They stand, staring, mute, firing chaos from their basses, challenging the audience to stay and imbibe rather than run and cry. The heavens open; the blizzard arrives. “Evil” masks are distributed, which is when things become further surreal. Children don the masks – we are surrounded by tiny, faceless, black-eyed beings, foreheads “Evil”-emblazoned, where just moments before there was a gaggle of carefree children playing in the mud. Some somehow end up onstage, invited to pluck bass guitars, and are then held aloft, in a celebration of the essential innocence of children, even when they are surrounded and encouraged by such ambiguous chaos.
The baby’s-head theremin is unveiled, the lead singer prowling amongst the crowd, inviting them to stroke it, and, inevitably, to lick the baby’s bare scalp – several ladies are happy to oblige, to a soundtrack of increasingly pained squeals from the baby. Bass guitars are offered around; the music climaxes; the frontman wanders off into the crowd to steal someone’s drink. Eventually the 20-minute ‘Whalebomb’ draws to a stumbling denouement; everyone slowly emerges from their bad dream, as if suddenly being woken from hypnotism, or stumbling to the end of a particularly bad trip. And for the select few who had braved the Evil Blizzard at Kendal Calling 2014, nothing would ever be quite the same again.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 10th September 2014 at 2:00 pm
After having seen sold out shows at U Street Music Hall starring the Gaslight Anthem, Kodaline and more recently, Glass Animals 2 months previous to the day, it seems that from here on in I should just expect ridiculous scenes at the place. This past Monday night, the initially dance-orientated but now fully indie-friendly venue played host to a Cherrytree / Interscope Records label tour starring some of the brightest stars in their universe. Interestingly, the three bands chosen for this tour – opener Secret Someones and co-headliners Sir Sly and Wolf Gang – all make pretty different music, but pop is the thread that unites them all.
Like seemingly 90% of all the bands in the United States, Secret Someones hail from Brooklyn. Seeing three girls onstage in a band, I was expecting a Bangles-esque sound to come blaring through the speakers. However, it soon became apparent that whether drummer / multi-instrumentalist Zach Jones’ maleness makes a difference or not is moot. This is a young band with a lot of potential, if they only could decide on the direction they want to take. Given the way the music business is right now, maybe it’d be better if this group continued the way they are going and then be a quadruple threat in indie rock, straight rock, pop and folk? That’s a lot of keep track of. So what happens to them remains to be seen.
Bess Rogers, Hannah Winkler, and Lelia Broussard are clearly gifted in singing (they take turns taking lead vocals) and in particular their combined harmonies, which are wonderful. If you’d never seen them before, you might think incorrectly that they were actually sisters. That’s how tight their harmonies are, making me think of the pure pop sensibility of Wilson Philips. But such sweet harmonies make more sense in softer pop or folk contexts, don’t they? Those styles seem diametrically opposed to the kick-arse rendition of Nirvana’s ‘Breed’ they unleashed on us, which also makes an appearance on their debut EP ‘I Won’t Follow’. Jones felt it necessary to explain after that they’d just played a Nirvana cover, which should tell you a lot about the average age of punters at the show. The title track of the EP, which Secret Someones used to close out their set, sends the right kind of message not only for young women but for everyone of all ages and genders: be confident in your own strength.
I’ve seen London indie pop band Wolf Gang multiple times now at U Hall, it’s now a running joke with me and the guys, and even frontman Max McElligott himself mentioned it onstage on this night, saying it was practically like their second home. Not a bad thing at all. Now fully a four-piece band comprised of McElligott, guitarist Gavin Slater, bassist James Woods and drummer Lasse Petersen, instead of just McElligott’s vision of grandeur with backing touring members, is readying for the release of the second Wolf Gang album, ‘Alveron’, here in the States.
Early single ‘Lay Your Love Down’ revealed a couple weeks ago has been a clear indication that McElligott intends to continue Wolf Gang with the epic pop songwriting that continues the reign of ‘Lions in Cages’ and ‘The King and All of His Men’ to this day. While McElligott proffered an acoustic version of ‘Ghost in My Life’ in the second half of the set to “change things up a bit”, it was left to the core love and relationships’ type of songs this band is known for to keep things upbeat. The exuberance of spring 2014 single ‘Black River’ grabbed hold of your attention straight out of the gate, while the sweeping yet funky ‘Back to Back’ wowed and proved a definite standout of the night. The sexy, r&b-tinged ‘Now I Can Feel It’ off the new album shows the band isn’t afraid to spread their wings.
The most tender moment of the night was when McElligott dedicated ‘Midnight Dancers’ to a couple they’d met earlier at the meet and greet, who had explained tearfully this was the song they used for their first dance when they married recently. He said they felt so special and honoured to have been a part of their lives. And when a personable band like Wolf Gang does come into your life, you can’t help but feel grateful that as a massive fan of the band, you’re being taken along on the ride while that band works hard for their successes. You feel like family. Having followed their story since 2009, I anticipate with the release of ‘Alveron’, their time will finally have come.
Stay and Defend
If You Could Believe (new song)
Lay Your Love Down
Back to Back
The King and All of His Men
Ghost in My Life (acoustic)
Now I Can Feel It (new song)
Lions in Cages
Alveron (new song)
Like Wolf Gang, Sir Sly have toured America several times as support for bands I’m not particularly fond of, and I was certain it would not be long before they returned to DC as a headliner. While they are a three-piece on paper, live they are a five-man crew creating a massive wall of sound so magnificent and loud, I had to excuse myself from the pit about 25 minutes in because the beats were so relentless. Watching them further back didn’t diminish their impression at the slightest. When I saw the vertical light strips hung on the back wall of the stage, I knew we were about to be sonically and visually assaulted.
I’ve been watching this band, comprised of frontman / guitarist / keyboardist Landon Jacobs with multi-instrumentalists Jason Suwito and Hayden Coplen pretty closely over the last couple of months, primarily because I’ve been beguiled by the intoxicating combination of electronic, r&b, hip hop and pop they’re offering up. Considering the disparate populations of fans we have in the world who like one of two of these genres and might hate the others, Sir Sly does an incredible job putting it all together in a way that’s palatable to all. I thought it was a quite ballsy move to begin with ‘Where I’m Going’, one of their biggest songs to date; it was the gig equivalent of putting your cards out on the table right from the very start. It could have set a terrible tone for the night if it’d gone badly.
Instead, the massive underlying buzzy synths, combined with Jacobs’ oozy yet boy next door vocals, electrified the audience. The buzz from the synths continued with ‘Ghost’, with a super infectious backbeat and Jacobs’ little boy lost vocal delivery. With a rapped intro and heavy-hitting percussion, previous EP title track in minor key ‘Gold’ was a crowd favourite, punters’ hands in the air. But for me, the defining moment was when they brought out ‘You Haunt Me’, their most recent single and coincidentally the title track of their debut album out next week. The song has a bouncy ‘80s style rhythm throughout and features a glittery synth chorus that could have gone into cavity-inducing territory in the wrong hands. But no. Sir Sly brings it back far enough where it sounds fresh and new AND catchy. No mean feat. If I were to pick the next American band to be huge in 2015, no contest. Give Sir Sly the crown now.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 8th September 2014 at 2:00 pm
Appearances can be deceiving when it comes to English girl duo Smoke Fairies. Though they might be sporting flowing tresses and wearing simple white dresses on this night that seemed to indicate innocence, their music isn’t entirely dream pop as inaccurately described on Wikipedia. Or at least I think the label does them no favours, actually dismissing their craft. Their affinity for American style blues, which Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies picked up on when they spent a year studying in New Orleans, is what I find most interesting about their music. The last time I saw the pair perform, they were supporting a then unknown in the States Laura Marling, so I was eager to see and hear how their sound had evolved from that time 4 years ago.
Opening for Smoke Fairies was Marian McLaughlin, a local singer/songwriter who performed this night by herself. She released an album on her own this past January, called ‘Dérive’. McLaughlin began her set with ‘Heavier-than-air’, which she described as relating to the early days of human flight. I appreciate her willingness to tackle heavier subject matter than what is usual for this kind of music. The at times slightly more frenetic ‘Horse’ showed off her vocal talents, as well as her guitar-picking skill.
After the show, she had mentioned to us that when she can, she performs with a string quartet, but unfortunately the quartet was already booked out for that night when she’d arranged the gig. One has to wonder how much bigger of an impression McLaughlin would have made with them backing her. If you’re interested in hearing more, check out her Tiny Desk concert (with said string section) on the NPR Web site.
Watching singer/songwriters live is usually a dubious exercise for me. My usual problem with the genre is that the lyrical content is too banal, simple or devoid of emotion to capture my attention. Thankfully, in the case of Smoke Fairies, they have something in their arsenal that you would never guess if all you knew of was what they looked like. Live, the conclusion of ‘Misty Versions’ is swirling about in a psychedelic way, yet it’s organised chaos as the rhythm section comes together with the dreamy vocals (okay, yes, I’ll give you that) to create a juxtaposition of elements that shouldn’t work on paper but somehow do. In contrast, slow-burning number ‘Eclipse Them All’ comes across as sultry and almost a little dangerous. Later on the set, faster tempoed ‘Hotel Room’ proved the evening’s standout, recalling foot-stomping blues numbers of the past.
Blamire and Davies released their self-titled album, their fourth, this past spring on Full Time Hobby, so naturally their set was heavy on content from the newer material on ‘Smoke Fairies’. Davies has a sometimes pointed, sometimes hard vocal delivery; I wondered if this had to do with the microphones and sound system at DC9 or maybe it’s the approach she takes when she performs live? I wonder about this because it’s not as obvious on the album. A resounding call from the crowd for the band to return for an encore was rewarded with the ladies coming back to play ‘Blood Speaks’, the title track of their 2012 LP. While it could be said that the attendance at this DC show wasn’t great – this is a town whose denizens tend to work long and late hours, and this show began at the very early time on a Friday of 7 PM – the fact that those punters who were present were appreciative fans and were loud in their admiration is a good sign that Smoke Fairies must be doing something right indeed.
After the cut: Smoke Fairies’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Smoke Fairies with Marian McLaughlin at DC9, Washington DC – 5th September 2014
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 4th September 2014 at 4:00 pm
Jessie Ware will be releasing her new album ‘Tough Love’ on the 6th of October on Island Records. One of the tracks appearing on the new LP will be this collaboration with Dev ‘Blood Orange‘ Hynes, a little disco-infused number called ‘Want Your Feeling’. Here for you today we’ve a live performance of Ware and her band performing the song at London’s Barbican, where it’s clear this song (and probably other tunes on ‘Tough Love’) is a great vehicle for her sultry voice. Watch it below.
Martin’s Day 1 roundup from
Kendal Calling 2014 is here.
There’s no doubting the scale of The Ramona Flowers‘ ambition – theirs is all big reverb and hanging guitar notes, large-scale emoting and words like “bittersweet”. There’s a common comparison with U2, which is fair enough, but in comparison the Flowers seem a touch lightweight: at least U2 managed to write about politics before moving on to songs which can be played at weddings. ‘Brighter’ is a spacey affair which manages to tick all the boxes of swirly, effected guitar, emo-pained yet meaningless vocal meanderings and a stadium-friendly drum track. Does the world need another bunch of U2 wannabes? Probably not, but the experience is pretty exhilarating while it lasts. Steve Bird is a strong frontman – which basically means he knows how good he looks and plays up to it – and the rest of the band bang out the massive tunes with competence and enthusiasm. If, like Professor Peach, you “like ‘em big”, then The Ramona Flowers are where it’s at.
Amber Run (another set, another meaningless two-word band name) belong to that most dreary of genres: Quiet-Loud-Folksy-Rock-With-Big-Crescendos-And-Wide-Eyed-Faux-Innocent-Vocals. Even if this was your very first introduction to the wonders of live rock music, you’d still be forgiven for thinking “is that really it?”. ‘Spark’ has a pointless refrain of “let the light in”, repeated ad nauseum – a defining feature of the QLFRWBCAWEFIV genre. ‘Noah’ has all the other tropes – mildly ironic orchestral baubles (in this case, xylophone) and vowels stretched to the very limits of decency. They’re not as irritating as Eliza and the Bear, although that’s like saying syphilis is preferable to AIDS. Both to be avoided as much as practically possible.
We Were Evergreen do their thing, which is to be very funky and French indeed. We’ve covered them before at Deer Shed Festival (read about this year’s appearance here), so there’s no need to go into detail about their virtues again here, except to say that TGTF had a chat with them afterwards, so watch this space for that.
Thank goodness for Findlay, who can be relied upon to be a proper rock star. There’s more attitude in her slight frame than any number of mopey, reverbed boy bands. ‘Your Sister’ is even more acerbic live, the minimal band (another example of the current superfluosity of bassists) rocking hard to an ancient blues riff over lyrics heavy with innuendo. She breaks out the overdrive microphone for ‘Greasy Love’, which is still a very naughty piece of music, its references to sweaty sex just about as raunchy as rock gets right now, and its music is as dirty as its lyrical content. A new track called ‘Stoned and Alone’ is unleashed with the order, “if you’ve got a spliff, smoke it now!” to the raised eyebrows of security staff; what a rebel. If there’s a girl doing better blues-rock than Findlay right now, call the Guinness Book of Records.
Catfish and the Bottlemen pack the Calling Out tent, punters squelching around in boggy puddles on its periphery, desperate to catch a glimpse of a band that are shaping up to be the next big thing in mainstream rock. The stars were all aligning for their Kendal performance – their album about to drop, it was frontman Van McCann’s birthday, and he’d just exclusively revealed to TGTF that he’d like CATB to be bigger than Oasis. Fair enough. And on the evidence of today, their trajectory is indeed inexorably upwards. Their songs are adventurous yet simple: big choruses, hooky melodies, modestly sweary of lyric yet innocent of eye. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, no novel song arrangements, no obscure instrumentation, just a wall of guitars and an endearing mixture of humility and genuine cool from McCann. Back in March last year, TGTF declared “anyone pondering the future of British guitar music should add Catfish and the Bottlemen to the list”. Come 2014, not only are they on the list, they’re fighting hard to be at the top. Care to bet against them?
With their run of festival performances this summer, Suede have pulled off one of the most profound comebacks in recent memory. Not only are they generally regarded as being, if not quite the inventors of Britpop, then certainly the trailblazers, they have managed to resurrect a career that was in danger of becoming a footnote in pop music history – a blazing start followed by a long tail of increasing mediocrity. No longer. Following their superb comeback 2013 album ‘Bloodsports’, Suede have crafted a live show utterly worthy of a headline slot at any event in the world. Even (whisper it…) Glastonbury. Mumford and Sons? Give me a break.
After an appropriately long wait, a shadowy figure emerged from the depths of the stage to the mournful piano strains of ‘The Next Life’, a hugely brave move in front of a Northern festival crowd known for its rowdy enthusiasm. Impressively, the crowd was hushed and reverent as Brett Anderson knelt, almost foetus-like, his cracked falsetto hypnotising them into silence. A beautiful moment of Kendal history. But in a blink it was gone, replaced by a romp through 20 years of Suede history. They played more than half their debut album but just a single track from opus ‘Dog Man Star’, perhaps reinforcing this author’s opinion that, good though ‘Dog Man Star’ is, it’s ‘Suede’ that is a true pop-rock masterpiece, with the perfect combination of punk, pomp and peroxide, and much more relevant in the live arena.
There’s four tracks from ‘Coming Up,’ demonstrating just how valuable the first Oakes-written Suede album is to their back catalogue. The move to single-word song titles (‘Filmstar’, ‘Lazy’, ‘Trash’) neatly summarises the fresh, efficient, to-the-point Suede 2.0 which emerged from the ashes of the ‘Dog Man Star’ sessions – such songs are remarkably fizzy, electronically-enhanced shocks of guitar pop that still sound fresh and vital today. We also get this writer’s favourite ever Suede song, ‘Killing of a Flash Boy’, never released on a non-compilation album, but a perennial live favourite, a dystopian singalong with a similarly worrying video.
There really isn’t a comparable story in pop to that of Richard Oakes. Plucked from nowhere as a schoolboy with a penchant for playing Suede songs in his bedroom, his mimicry of Bernard Butler was astonishing then, and his ability to write original guitar parts in the true Suede style is nothing short of a musical miracle even now. His recent portliness may not be true to the skinny Suede style of old (Anderson, however, remains as sticklike as ever), but is at least a visual reminder of the years that have passed since his joining. Despite what many longstanding fans may want to believe, Oakes has been in the band almost three times as long as his predecessor, and is the true sound of modern Suede.
The high-water mark for Britpop reunions is arguably Blur’s performance at Glastonbury in 2009, with perhaps an honourable mention for Pulp at Primavera in 2011. The difference here is that Suede aren’t just doing a one-off gig or two, this tour has been going for the best part of a year, featuring several festival appearances. This a proper career reboot, and with a new album slated for 2015, Suede are proving that they’re not happy simply with inventing Britpop. They want to reinvent it too.
More from Martin on Kendall Calling 2014 will be on TGTF soon.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 29th August 2014 at 4:00 pm
Last month was the awesome Original Penguin Plugged In night starring American duo We Are Scientists and Scots Twin Atlantic. (Two lucky TGTF readers attended the show via us.) This afternoon we’ve got a live video from the night of Sam McTrusty and co. performing ‘Brothers and Sisters’ from the night for you.
The song appears on the band’s third album ‘Great Divide’, released this week (it was reviewed by John here). Watch the performance below.
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